Saturday, December 25, 2004

The Joys of Christmas Travel

by Tom Bozzo

Outside Temperature: 28F (1).
Size of shipping container that will be needed to get all this stuff back to Madison: Enormous.
Number of additional butter spritz cookies I could eat at this moment: Zero. Well, maybe One.

At Ocean, Nina asks,

Does anyone think that travel during the holidays is fun? La Guardia early in the week was a nightmare and this was without winter weather interference. Prices at traditional vacation havens are inflated, local eating establishments are often closed. What is the joy in this?

We are regular Christmas travelers. Our routine currently involves a Christmas morning flight from Minneapolis to Philadelphia, which allows us to spend Christmas eve with Suzanne's family (it's their main event) and most of Christmas day with mine (as Christmas dinner is ours).

Since our itinerary does not involve travel through LaGuardia — the nightmarishness of which, I've found, is not especially seasonal — our holiday travel experience has been smooth mostly. (Admittedly, it didn't hurt that I was at least a Gold-level frequent flier with Northwest for a highly privileged stretch from 1998 to 2003.)

Is there fun and/or joy in the travel? As long as we're dealing with common carriers in the mid-Zilches, we are not likely to get carried away with either en route. But there's enough at the end of the travel to keep us going, at least until growing kids and the correspondingly less portable Christmas keep our show at home.

Today's travel was not an exception. The TSA, which I was ready to deride as the "Touchy Feely Administration" given its recent bad press, was on its best behavior with polite and seemingly efficient representatives at our MSP checkpoint. Having breezed through security, the worst of the rest was a few minutes' de-icing delay on departure and the indignity of watching (from row 7) the first-class meal service, as the class divider curtains are now gone for security reasons. My sense (keep in mind, the sample is a time series of one flight) is that Christmas loads have increased, between schedule cutbacks and people seeking travel bargains on "off" days, but at least there were no altercations over bin space.

By past standards, I've barely been flying for the last year or so, and thus it was a disappointing surprise to see the economy-class lav stocked with "NWA antibacterial soap" instead of Aveda "Calming" cleanser. Perhaps that explains why Annie Jacobsen was so freaked out by that band of Syrian musicians earlier in the year.

John survived the maneuvering on approach to PHL, or rather the banana he ate in mid-flight did, unlike the last time (last summer) when a well-intentioned attempt to show him cool final approach sights — including the Center City skyline, the S.S. United States (from the air, its size and sleekness are just ahead of its decrepitude), and the mothball fleet at the Navy Yard — ended in disaster. (If you do have to have an airsick toddler, the best time for it to happen is two minutes before touchdown at your final destination.)

Also, I can say unequivocally that if you have to lose your mobile phone, do not lose it on Christmas afternoon. It turns out that, notwithstanding all the encouragement Sprint PCS offers to use their web site as a substitute for human agents, it is not actually possible to report a lost phone online. Moreover, they don't have anyone willing to take (or aren't willing to pay) whatever multiple of straight time is necessary to put a couple of bums in seats to handle such customer service exigencies of any description on Christmas. With cellular number portability, alternative service recommendations are welcome (note, we roam a fair amount).

The phone had been taken out to serve as a toddler distraction device, and indeed he was very sweetly "calling" my mother and brother to inform them of his impending arrival prior to takeoff. Then the phone never made it to any adult family member's pocket, despite the ill prospects of the unattended phone sitting on the seat having been noted by both adults, in one of these cognition-action failures that in more serious contexts ends up figuring prominently in the NTSB accident report.

As it happens, we'd been using a pretty clunky basic model with a display that was pretty well shot, so if someone picks it up with nefarious intent, there's a good chance that they'd judge the phone to be inoperable. (2) I'd been mumbling just yesterday about getting a sexier flip-phone more in the tradition of the long-deceased but still beloved StarTAC of my gadget-forward bachelor days. So maybe it wasn't so much of an accident. (3)

In summary, today was not exactly surprise-upgrade-to-trans-Atlantic-business-class great for us, but it could have been a lot worse.

In the department of things you don't learn so quickly when away from your usual communication channels, it actually was a lot worse for my grandmother, who flew into the maw of Thursday's U.S. Airways baggage-handling disaster. That involved multiple lengthy ground delays, evocative of Northwest's snowstorm debacle of a few years ago which IIRC resulted in a few lawsuit filings, and a PHL short-term parking tab of nearly $40 by the time her plane made it to the gate and the bags were located.

What about Christmas itself? It was a small gathering, just family, and we ate well. The digital camera was very cranky today, so just some random images this evening.

The wine glass from Mom's old crystal looks like an apéritif glass next to the Riedel monster. Portion control also is difficult with a wineglass into which an entire bottle can be decanted.

The Santas are taking over the mantel! When I was a kid, there was just one, with sleigh and reindeer, amid the greenery. There are also a few more stockings now.

John plays present. His turtleneck was not actually magenta.

I almost managed to catch Julia in mid-smile, only to have failed to notice that instead of turning off the useless red-eye reduction, I had turned off the flash entirely. D'ohh!


(1) Wilmington, DE.

(2) A quick usage check suggests that the phone either is in some NWA lost and found bin, or has indeed been given up for dead.

(3) Not really, as I'd rather apply the price of the phone to an iPod or one of those sparkly new PowerBooks, both of which were testing my personal fiscal restraint in the course of my fruitless search of Twin Cities Apple stores for a Ti replacement battery.
Great summary! I do have to explain that I wondered what the joy of travel was if you were seeking an escape during the holidays. Traveling to be with family is different. I'm all up on that. Without it, my grown daughters would never be home for Christmas and that would be unacceptable!
I couldn't see traveling for its own sake at this time of the year, either. The next best alternative for me would be a quiet time at home with the immediate family (no outside-the-house work!), which some friends of ours are doing, and which sounds pretty luxurious.
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